Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Fare Thee Well, Head Ball Coach

There is both too much and not a lot to say here.  As the capper to a weekend of college football that featured more insanity than just about any I can bring to mind, Steve Spurrier announced his intentions to resign, effective immediately, as South Carolina's head coach last night.  He then finalized that with a brief mic drop of a press conference yesterday morning, bringing to an end one of the most singular and remarkable careers in the history of college football.  Spencer Hall did all the heavy lifting on this already, and it was appropriate that a Florida alum would have the best last word on the Head Ball Coach. 

There's a whole mess of conflicting emotions here for me, and I'm going to try and unpack them. 

As a Georgia fan, there has been no single human who approaches Spurrier as an architect of my personal misery.  Lots of coaches have dashed the Dawgs' hopes like so much kindling over the years, but no one else did it so consistently and with such obvious glee.  The list of people and programs Spurrier has deeply enjoyed antagonizing is a long one, but you'd have to put Georgia pretty near the top if you were using him as the test case while creating some sort of "career opponent trolling percentage" metric. 

During his time at Florida, the humiliations and iniquities and just plain whuppins he doled out to Georgia were both plentiful and full of a bile that stemmed from his playing days with the Gators.  It wasn't just that he assassinated us year after year; it's that the losses were always, always accompanied by a snide remark or three in a characteristically brief and pithy post-game presser.  He felt it was his duty to twist the knife, and he did it with relish.  All coaches love winning, but where the Dawgs were concerned, Spurrier luxuriated in it, and the opportunity it afforded him to remind anyone within earshot who won, by how much, and what that implicitly said about the loser's sad and dilapidated former dignity.  And what, in turn, it implied about the winner too. 

God we were happy when he left Florida.  We thought the nightmare was over. 

After a brief and not-great NFL stint which I won't belabor here, he picked up right where he left off, performing the same messianic feats at South Carolina that he had in the Swamp and Duke before that.  Predictably, his time away from the SEC East had not lessened his Georgia-baiting proclivities, and we were back in that demoralizing grind again.  Just drubbing after drubbing and joke after joke at our expense.  And the games, always early in the schedule, torpedoing whatever preseason ranking or momentum the Dawgs might have had going in.  And it was almost always cumulative.  Georgia has a history of tailspins after bad losses, but dropping one to the Head Ball Coach virtually assured a season fraught with ineptitude and stupid losses to teams no one should lose to.  Just torture, man. 

So a part of me is, if not glad, at least relieved that I don't ever again have to endure the vicious beatings and ensuing snark Spurrier routinely gave the Dawgs for the better part of a quarter century.  (Though he was adamant about "resigning", not "retiring", so who knows.)  Even as the signs became more apparent that his fastball was gone or going fast, you never slept soundly the night before that South Carolina game.  There was always the threat that the man was going to take some seemingly rudderless Gamecocks team and work his voodoo and then you were going to be looking at a scoreboard where the other side had a bajillion points and yours had 10 or 7 or zilch and it shouldn't be happening but OH GOD THEY'RE TAKING THAT PUNT ALL THE WAY TO THE HOUSE WHY AM I EVEN WATCHING THIS JESUS SOMEONE FIND A SUNBELT CONFERENCE GAME WE CAN PUT ON I CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE.

But if you follow and love college football, didn't Spurrier make it more fun than pretty much anyone else?  He gave Georgia hell, sure, but that was due to a career spent in our division and a grudge that extended back to 1966.  Clearly, the man was an equal-opportunity hater, and watching him turn that ineffable snark ray wherever the wind was blowing on a given week was just delightful.  The gifts he gave were bountiful; every week, our cups did runneth over with the rare vintage of Spurrier.  There were finely blended notes of disdain, candor, humor, pride, humility, and vitriol, coming together in a finish accented by his own self-awareness that this was all both absurd and the perfect vehicle to exorcise every demon and slight he felt was owed payback.  He was giving us a show, but he also meant every word.  He was contemptuous and spiteful yet congenial as hell about it the whole time.  He was the finest example of lovable curmudgeon-ness that ever stepped onto a sideline.  

And he was great, just so very exceptional, at his job.  He took sad sack programs and turned them into juggernauts time and time again.  The records and winning percentages and titles piled up and then he would go somewhere else and recreate, reinvent, and tinker to his heart's delight.  And unlike the other preeminent coaches of his generation and the following one into which his career lasted, he never seemed to have any identity beyond mowing fools down with a grin.  He wasn't defined by any one system or ethos or coaching philosophy.  He revolutionized SEC football with the Fun'n'Gun, but that wasn't because he had a particularly evangelical attachment to it.  He just did whatever seemed most likely to succeed at a given moment on the field, and he was usually right.

So I'll miss having Steve Spurrier around.  College football will be less interesting and far less of a joy to follow without him.  Not the Dawgs having to play him once a year and that usually ending poorly for them, but I'll miss everything else.  May his tee shots be long and straight, may his putter be sure, and may there always be an Arbys within easy distance of the clubhouse.  Take 'er easy, Head Ball Coach.  We'll miss you, dang it. 

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